How To Remove Hiring Bias From Your Recruitment Process

A good candidate is a large boon to your company, while the wrong one can be a costly mistake. That’s what makes hiring a tricky business. Finding someone who is competent, qualified, adaptable, and enthusiastic can feel like a daunting task.

And to further compound matters, the people assessing each candidate might fall victim to unconscious biases that cause them to pick the wrong one. Unconscious biases don’t mean that your hiring manager is being prejudiced against certain applicants, but it does mean that diverse candidates may slip through the cracks.

It’s a common roadblock, as 79% of human resources professionals agree that hiring bias does exist in recruitment processes. Removing this bias can be a long undertaking. But since more people want to work for diverse companies and these companies are proven to be more successful overall, it’s a worthwhile leadership goalfor any business owner.

What Is Hiring Bias? 

Hiring bias is any unconscious judgement that a hiring manager or interviewer makes based on their first impressions of the candidate. Typically, hiring biases are based on primary factors of a person’s identity like race, sex, gender, age, or appearance. However, secondary hiring biases relating to identity markers like religion, parental status, physical ability or disability, or education may arise.

Usually, hiring bias isn’t intentional. Unconscious biases can creep into the hiring process and cause interviewers to make unfair judgements on a person’s identity rather than their qualifications or fit for the role.

14 Common Types of Hiring Biases

Let’s explore some common biases and how to spot them.

1. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias means having an initial perception of a candidate and using their interview responses to affirm your beliefs instead of paying attention to what they’re actually saying. This can be a form of selective hearing, where you are only paying attention to responses that confirm your bias and ignoring things that could show they’re a good fit for the job.

Another form of confirmation bias is tailoring your interview questions to make one candidate look stronger than another. If you already believe one prospect is a better fit than another, you might ask them better or more interesting questions to affirm your belief that they are a strong candidate.

Example: You think Chad is going to be a better candidate than Maria. When they arrive to interview, you ask Chad, “This role involves a lot of cold calling — how has your sales experience prepared you to pitch our business to new customers?” When Maria comes in, you only ask her, “What aspects of the position interest you?”

2. Halo Effect

As its name suggests, the halo effect is when an interviewer lets one positive quality about an applicant overshadow any other considerations or potential red flags.

While positive qualities or experiences should be taken into account during hiring, they shouldn’t be isolated from other factors like interview responses, work history, or qualifications. All of these factors should be considered together, making sure you’re looking at the full picture of each candidate.

Example: You notice that Rafael is an Eagle Scout. Even though his interview responses were suboptimal, you prioritize his application as you know Eagle Scouts have a reputation for being responsible and hard-working.

3. Horns Effect

The opposite of the halo effect, the horns effect is when one perceived negative thing about a candidate overshadows the rest of their application, including the positive attributes or way they are fit for the role.

Just like the halo effect, a candidate’s negative attributes or experiences shouldn’t be singled out. Instead, these things should be considered with the rest of their application and interview to allow you to judge their fit for the role as a whole.

Example: You notice that Brittany has a stain on her jacket when she comes in to interview. You assume this means she is careless and messy, and decide to pass on her application even though she had experience for the role.

4. Affect Heuristics 

Affect heuristics are when people allow their current emotions or mental state to influence their decision-making. During the recruitment process, this can mean that a hiring manager isn’t being entirely subjective when looking at a candidate or conducting an interview.

While we may take a few seconds to cool down or get in the zone for an interview, the reality is that mood can have a larger impact on our ability to understand and process information. This may mean you have trouble listening to an applicant’s interview responses, feel annoyed at their wording, or want to rush the interview to get it over with.

Example: You almost get in a car accident in your office’s parking lot and the other driver yells at you. You enter the interview in a bad mood and rush through your list of questions. Afterward, you decide the candidate was a bad fit for the role.

5. Affinity Bias

It’s natural to feel excited when we meet someone similar to us. In hiring, however, the excitement about something in common can overshadow other parts of the interview and lead you to think a candidate will be a better fit for the company than they actually will be.

Affinity bias makes us gravitate towards people who look or act like we do, and is the reason why many companies might have a homogenous employee base. Many companies who are hiring for a “culture fit” may be experiencing affinity bias.

Example: You notice that Darnell went to the same university that you did. During the interview, you start feeling like he is the most intelligent candidate and prioritize him over all other applicants.

6. Overconfidence Bias

A recruiter, especially a new recruiter, might feel pressure to pick the right candidate and become overconfident that the person they choose is going to be the perfect fit. This bias, called the overconfidence bias, is when a recruiter rushes the process of selecting a new employee because they have overestimated their ability to score their applications.

Example: After a company experienced a few months of rapid turnover, they brought Christine in to hire new people. Christine feels confident she can put a stop to the turnover and rushes through the interview process when she feels she found a good fit.

7. Beauty Bias

Beauty bias stems from the incorrect belief that attractive people are more successful. In the office, recruiters might give more points to applicants that they find more attractive or are wearing more expensive, nicer outfits.

Though most people wouldn’t think they fall victim to this bias, the reality is that beauty bias finds its way into many offices. A study showed that conventionally attractive candidates receive 36% more callbacks. Even just standing a few inches taller can score you a higher paycheck — $789 per year, to be exact.

Example: Jason, a less qualified candidate, showed up to his interview wearing an expensive, tailored suit. Aki, a more qualified candidate, showed up in a wrinkled, older suit. The hiring manager moved forward with Jason based on their appearance at the interview.

8. Conformity Bias

Conformity bias is when fear of being different keeps someone from voicing their opinion. In hiring, conformity bias most directly affects panel interviews. In these scenarios, many panels fall victim to a “majority rule” situation where participants might be afraid to voice their concerns about a candidate everyone likes or highlight the positives of an unpopular applicant.

Example: When Padma leaves the interview, the group interview panel raises concerns that she didn’t receive a bachelor’s degree. Though Padma has relevant experience and gave good answers, Lisa doesn’t mention to the group that she wants to move ahead with her application.

9. Expectation Anchor 

An expectation anchor is when we anchor ourselves to one identifying factor about a candidate and let that cloud our judgement of them as a whole. This bias is closely aligned with the halo or or horns effect, though it isn’t tied to an inherently positive or negative piece of information.

Instead, an expectation anchor occurs when a hiring manager becomes fixated on one facet of an applicant and is unable to process any more information about them. This can be anything from appearance to alma mater, work history, parental status, or awards won. In many cases, expectation anchors also occur when filling a role someone has left and wanting the new candidate to match the old employee’s demeanor.

Example: When Raj leaves the company, many people miss his presence in the office. When hiring, the managers start to discount applicants who don’t share Raj’s sense of humor and demeanor.

10. Nonverbal Bias 

You may have heard that a strong handshake indicates a more confident person and thus thought people with stronger handshakes are more likable. In reality, this is part of nonverbal bias.

Nonverbal bias is when we judge people based on nonverbal cues like the way they sit, shake hands, stand, sit up, or walk. A person who stands up straight and tall might seem more confident, while a person who slouches might appear lazy or shy. In reality, these nonverbal cues aren’t usually indicators of a person’s personality or their ability to perform a job.

Example: Brett has a stronger handshake than Imani. When remembering the candidates, you remember Brett as being more confident and a better fit for the job.

11. Contrast Bias

Contrast bias is when we feel a certain way about something because of how it compares to something else. If that seems confusing, it’s helpful to contextualize it in the context of a job interview: If you conducted an awkward interview, you might feel overly good about the one that follows even if you wouldn’t normally think it went well.

Especially when sifting through a large pile of resumes, contrast bias can make a hiring manager think one resume looks especially good after viewing several that weren’t the right fit.

Example: When Lauren comes in to interview, she is ill-prepared and it’s clear she won’t be a good fit for the company. When Megan comes in shortly after, even though she also isn’t qualified for the role, the hiring manager thinks she may be a good candidate because she had done her research to prepare.

12. Illusory Correlation 

Illusory correlation is when someone links two objects that don’t actually have any impact on each other. In hiring, this usually means a hiring manager asks questions that won’t actually provide any insight into the candidate’s job performance.

This could mean asking, “What color represents your aura?” and thinking the answer will indicate how well they could fill your opening. In reality, these types of fluff questions are usually meaningless and won’t help fairly assess a candidate.

Example: During the interview, you ask Tristian, “What condiment do you think matches your personality?” He responds with salt, which you think isn’t an interesting answer. You decide he isn’t creative enough for the role.

13. Intuition Bias

People often emphasize the importance of trusting your gut. And while that may work for feelings of danger or falling in love, it shouldn’t apply to hiring someone to work for your company.

In recruitment, intuition bias means trusting your initial impressions of a candidate and deciding whether or not you’re going to hire them within the first few minutes. But first impressions are often fueled by unconscious biases. While you may get an initial gut feeling one way or the other, you should still give the candidate a chance to answer interview questions.

Example: When Willow walks through the door, you get a gut feeling that she won’t be a fit for your company. Even though she is highly qualified and nailed your interview questions, you reject her application because of that initial gut reaction.

14. Status Quo Bias

Anyone who has ever said “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” might have fallen victim to the status quo bias. As the name implies, the status quo bias means you’re accustomed to the way things are and you don’t want things to change. In hiring, this might mean you try to fill the shoes of a departing employee with someone who is exactly like them or continue to hire people who look, talk and think the same.

Status quo bias can be a serious roadblock to diversity. If your employee pool is mostly white, this bias could mean future hires will look the same way.

Example: Heather, a manager who is leaving your company, is a white woman. As more people apply, you find yourself gravitating toward other white women because that is who you’re used to seeing in the role.

 How Does Bias Affect Recruitment? 

A diverse workforce has many advantages. A diverse team is proven to be more efficient and productive while also being happier overall. When companies don’t tackle interviewer bias head-on, they may be limiting their ability to reap the benefits of hiring diverse employees.

But beyond that, bias in recruitment might turn people off of your company. Companies who make a strong commitment to diversity through their mission statement and hiring practices are more likely to draw in better candidates. This is especially true for millennial and Gen-Z workers — 83% of millennial workers said they are actively engaged at work when they feel their employer cares about diversity and inclusion.

Fostering diversity in the office starts from hiring. From the job posting to the offer letter, you can work to make diverse candidates feel welcomed and start to foster inclusion in every aspect of your organization.

 How To Remove Bias from Hiring 

Removing bias from hiring starts with becoming cognizant of ways we might be playing into it. Let’s look at ways to remove bias from your hiring process.

 Implement Blind Hiring During Resume Screening

There are tools available to help remove bias from hiring. Blind hiring, a practice where an applicant’s identifying information is obscured, can begin as early as the resume screening phase.

Some companies choose to have applicants submit an initial employment inquiry via a form that only collects their email address. Others have a process to obscure information on resumes so the hiring manager will only see an applicant’s qualifications instead of things like name, university, or age.

Tip: Part of anonymizing screenings means avoiding the applicant’s social media before they’ve advanced in the process.

 Outsource Your Hiring

A third-party agency that specializes in finding the right candidate and prioritizing diversity can step in to assure internal biases from your company aren’t making their way into the hiring process. A hiring partner will focus solely on finding the right candidate for the job.

Tip: A sure-fire way to ensure diversity in hiring is to go global using a globalization partner.

 Conduct Blind Screenings or Phone Interviews 

By the second or third round of interviews, you’ll know that a candidate is a fit for your company regardless of identity markers. But the initial screening process can allow bias to creep in and stop a good candidate before they get that far.

Blind screenings or phone interviews can obscure a candidate’s face or voice so the interviewer can solely focus on their responses. A few ways of doing this are by conducting video interviews with cameras off, phone interviews with voice obscuring technology, or doing the interview over an instant messaging service.

Tip: Some companies conduct the initial screening interview via email to save the hiring manager time and discourage bias.

 Ask for Work Samples 

For companies where employees will be producing content, reports, or other similar deliverables, samples can help you see what the candidate can do. By asking to review past work, you can judge the candidate’s skill level and gauge how well they will do in the role from a technical level.

Tip: You can ask for work samples with the initial application — but if you’re going to conduct a writing or working test, wait until the candidate has passed the initial screening phase so you don’t waste their time.

 Train Your Hiring Team

For some, being educated about biases is enough to make them acknowledge and try to remove them. As hiring managers or interviewers become aware of biases, they can take steps to become cognizant of when bias is appearing in their thinking during hiring.

If you haven’t held diversity training for your hiring team, that’s a good place to start. You can bring a coach in to train your team or find a downloadable course to distribute to your employees.

Tip: Diversity training is a popular option for U.S. companies — 67% report doing it in some form.

 Review Your Job Postings

More and more candidates are prioritizing diversity. And since millennial workers are specifically attracted to companies that prioritize diversity, including a direct statement about your commitment to hiring diversely can help attract these candidates and make them feel comfortable applying.

In addition to including a mission statement encouraging people of all races, ages, genders, and abilities to apply, comb through your existing posting for any potentially discouraging wording.

Tip: Job postings that replace gendered wording with neutral terms get 42% more applicants.

 Use Standardized Interview Questions

It’s important to get to know a candidate during the interview process, but that doesn’t mean your interviews should be completely different from each other. When you start to touch on job specifics rather than personal information, using a standard interview questions sheet can help reduce instances of confirmation bias during interviewing.

By using a standardized interview format, you’ll compare candidates based on the responses they provide to the same questions. This can help the process be more fair, thorough, and focused on the job.

Tip: In addition to writing standardized interview questions, you should also create a rating system that you’ll use to score applicants.

 Make Hiring a Multi-Step Process

Different hiring managers or interviewers will have different perspectives on each candidate. So while one person might see someone’s accent or outfit as undesirable and write them off, another might look past these factors and realize they are a good fit for the job and will excel at the company.

Make your hiring a multi-step process that will put each candidate in front of several people, then have each person come together to discuss their thoughts.

Tip: Have each person involved in the hiring process follow the same scoring system so they can compare candidates based on the same ranking process.

Standardized Interview Question Examples 

A standardized interview can make sure each candidate gets the same opportunities to shine in the interview. Some examples of standardized interview questions are the following:

  • What would you do if your deadline is fast approaching but you know the project you’re working on isn’t up to company standards?
  • Tell me about a time you failed and how you handled it.
  • What would you do if you were collaborating with a colleague and they were late to turn their part in?
  • What do you look for in a manager or company executive?
  • How do you handle working for difficult clients?
  • What aspects of our company’s mission stand out to you?
  • What aspects of a company’s culture are the most important to you?
  • Tell me about a time you had an idea to improve your company and what steps you took to do so.
  • What sets you apart from other people who are applying?
  • What is the worst job experience you’ve ever had and why? What was the best?

Hiring can be a tricky business, but that doesn’t mean it has to hinder yours. Whether you outsource your hiring to a global partner or keep it in-house, eliminating hiring biases can grow your applicant pool and help you hire good candidates that will stay for the long run.

For more information on eliminating hiring bias, check out the following infographic:

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